It was innocent, at first. Isn’t it always before we delve into some not so vague incarnation of insanity? Dr. Marion Genobi (well, she wasn’t officially a doctor) never wanted to go into the medical field. It was at the urging of her parents, themselves working class–her mother a seamstress and her father a mechanic–that she pursued her college education in dermatology, securing a financial scholarship to UCSF’s School of Medicine in the fall of 2004. Though San Francisco wasn’t geographically far from Oakland, it felt worlds away in many regards. And it wasn’t just the racial diversity of Oakland in comparison to San Francisco (which seemed, to Marion, to be merely Asia Part Deux), so much as the fact that Marion never much made body to body contact with anyone while driving in her hometown. On the streets of Haight-Ashbury, which she walked through to get to school, she often felt as though she might break out into hives from all the abrupt and unforeseeable invasion of personal space. She couldn’t imagine how people did it in even larger cities like New York or Tokyo.
Considering her antithetical-to-being-a-dermatologist fear of breaking out into a rash from too much human contact, Marion took to wearing her surgical gloves in and out of the classroom, in addition to consistently keeping her body covered in layers, which the weather in San Francisco required anyway. Of course, when a fellow male student started to notice this about her, he took it as some sort of fetishist’s invitation. Marion, not being very adept or seasoned in such social cues pertaining to a man’s overtly lecherous advances, was too naive in accepting his invitation to come over to his apartment in Golden Gate Heights genuinely believing it would be to go over the myriad skin conditions a person could have. And they did, at first. But Guy quickly developed an overt expression of ennui after covering Harlequin ichthyosis, which, to Marion, seemed like an unnecessarily mocking name for a diamond-shaped pattern that forms on the epidermis in its thickened state. The diamond shapes are separated by deep cracks that often cause restricted movement.
Guy took this opportunity in their studying to offer, “Maybe we should take advantage of the free movement of our own bodies.” Simultaneously perplexed and taken aback, Marion had to become quickly aware in that moment that no one’s intentions are pure, no matter who they are. She should have apprehended this when her parents pushed her into going into the medical profession. They didn’t care about her self-actualization, but wanted to profit from her financial success as recompense for their own fledgling bank account, the one that had helped to make her grow healthy and strong, instead of some genetically mutated being with Harlequin ichthyosis. Yet she felt like a harlequin–played for a fool–sitting there with her legs tightly pressed together, hands folded feebly in her lap–as though keeping both sets of limbs together would protect her from what was about to happen.
When it was over, she told herself it wasn’t a violation, that things like this happened all the time, had to happen. How else was a girl supposed to gain “experience”? She left in the middle of the night, when Guy had finally exhausted his energy and gone to sleep. In the dark shadows of the San Franciscan streets, illuminated only infrequently by the moon, Marion began to form a new shell. It was one more hardened than the skin of a Harlequin ichthyosis sufferer.
Marion wasn’t in class the next day, much to Guy’s wonder and disappointment. In his mind, they had shared a wonderful evening. Perception is so disparate among the sexes, is it not? Instead, she went to a place no one would ever think to look for her, did something, more, to use a favored word by dermatologists, rash, in booking a flight to Paris to go to the Musée des Moulages. It was the only aspect of dermatology that had ever allured her enough to pursue it as a career: just how wrong things could go on the human exterior, in turn, mirroring just how wrong it felt to be on the interior. And the Musée des Moulages displayed that wrongness in all of its glory, revealing to its patrons the seemingly infinite forms of disease-ridden flesh in all their wax molded glory. She had first heard about the museum in her organic chemistry class, where the professor felt inclined to mention she had just come back from Paris, and that her own dermatologist husband had subjected her to the museum’s horrors. “I hope any of you considering a career in the ‘skin trade’ think twice. I honestly don’t believe I could handle it. I’d rather deal with that which is internal–and plus, it means your patient usually can’t talk back to you while you work on them.”
Most people’s squeamishness about the skin is what attracted Marion all the more to it. Herself rarely touched by another, unless, apparently, it was unwanted, she would be the one to bestow human contact on others. Those who were too “unsightly” to be touched by anyone they weren’t paying. She would be Saint Marion of the Mangled Flesh. Among such potential manglings, as the Musée des Moulages revealed, were the effects of syphilis, which can cause sores and rashes on various parts of the body, including the genitals themselves, which, yes were, on full display behind a glass encasement.
When Marion was finished taking in one of the greatest homages to the potential for human frailty, she put “Skin” by Madonna on her iPod. Another splurge purchase on her credit card in addition to this brief three-day Paris trip. She then walked to nearby Canal Saint Martin, buying a bottle of wine before making her way to sit on the steps of the Quai de Jemmapes. The freedom of drinking in public made her emboldened when an old man, scarcely aware of his surroundings sat down near her. Fingering the X-Acto knife in her trenchcoat pocket, she only hesitated briefly before hacking off the raised mole on his exposed neck. It was swift, precise–in short, beautiful. She ran with the bounty in tow, exhilarated from the thrill of making someone’s body better. If she couldn’t make humanity itself better, she could at least make it look better.
She was an ordinary superhero with the power to rid people of their hideousness. Whether they understood that they needed to or not. Marion was supposed to leave the next day, return to school and follow the carefully laid out path of what it took to become a “successful doctor.” But the revelation of what she could do for others on the mole-laden streets of Paris compelled her to ignore the limitations of her flight time. And Europe in general was far rifer with just the kind of bubbly moles she wanted to rid this despicable world of. It was thus that she proceeded to set up a quiet life, marrying a Frenchman within the three-month nick of time, one who believed he was controlling her, and not the other way around. That he was a pharmacist who needed a cashier only sweetened the deal.
And at dusk, with her hawk-like eye, she would patrol the streets of different arrondissements to search for her perfect specimen–or rather, imperfect specimen. She only started to keep and encase the moles upon the fifteenth time, feeling it too wasteful simply to throw them in the trash. It was thus that when she died, after inheriting the apartment from her husband, that the building owner unearthed in the crawl space of her bedroom an unnavigable constellation of dots–moles of all shapes, sizes, colors and textures. Horrified and appalled at first, he eventually called upon the Musée des Moulages to see if they could do anything with the collection of “oddities.” They, in response, made it an offshoot of their own museum. And so the long-standing crimes of the Mole Hoarding Dermatologist (that’s what they had called her in the papers) were vindicated in a study of how one woman’s lust for physical perfection in others drove her to closeted madness.